Texas A&M’s women’s basketball game with Texas on Sunday is more than just a matchup between two ranked teams that used to be Southwest Conference and Big 12 Conference rivals (and future SEC rivals, too).
It’s a reunion of sorts between Aggies head coach Gary Blair and Longhorns head coach Vic Schaefer, whose careers have been intertwined for nearly three decades.
It also marks their last regular-season meeting as head coaches, as Blair is retiring at the end of this season.
The Aggies (8-0) and Longhorns (5-1) tip-off at 3 p.m. on Sunday. And Blair wants Aggie fans there, no excuses.
“It’s rivalry week for us,” Blair said on Monday. “It’s a great matchup. Vic has a good club again. You need to come to this game. No Cowboys on Sunday, no Aggies football this weekend. Nothing but Texas A&M basketball.
“This is a no excuse game for the fans.”
The Aggies’ schedule provides Blair a nostalgic trip through his long coaching career. On Nov. 18, Blair and the Aggies hosted Stephen F. Austin, where Blair started his head-coaching career in 1985. When he left SFA in 1993, he went to Arkansas, and the Aggies will face the Razorbacks on Feb. 3 in College Station.
While at SFA, Blair and Schaefer squared off as head coaches, as Schaefer was the head coach at Sam Houston from 1990-97. SFA was the Southland Conference’s dominant team back then, and Sam Houston rarely, if ever, won against Blair’s Ladyjacks.
"He was at Sam Houston State. I was at Stephen F. Austin," Blair told ESPN back in 2011. "We played golf together. He was a good friend, because he wasn't a threat to me."
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In 1997, Schaefer joined Blair’s staff as associate head coach at Arkansas. When Texas A&M lured Blair away from Fayetteville in 2003, he brought Schaefer, a Texas A&M graduate, with him.
Schaefer was Blair’s so-called ‘secretary of defense’ with the Aggies. The pair’s philosophies on defense is simpatico — plenty of full- and half-court pressure, an emphasis on creating turnovers and scoring off defense. That defense helped lead the Aggies to the 2011 national championship.
“It’s starts with pressure, pressure, pressure, ninety-four feet for forty minutes,” Blair said about what to expect from Texas. “No zone defense, man-to-man. You’d better be able to handle the ball and get into an offense.”
When Schaefer took the Mississippi State job in 2012, the pair went back to being rivals, and Schaefer built the Bulldogs into a power on the level of Blair’s Aggies. Schaefer led the Bulldogs to two straight NCAA Tournament championship games in 2017 and 2018 but lost both games. So, Blair still has the national championship as a head coach to hold over Schaefer, at least for now.
When Schaefer left Mississippi State for Texas in the spring of 2020, one would have thought that the annual games might go away. But, the SEC and Big 12 were smart enough to schedule the two teams against each other in the Big 12-SEC Challenge the last two seasons.
“No excuse Sunday,” Blair said. “Go to church, come to the game,” Blair said.
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You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.